Sunday, January 29, 2012

Meat-free month good way to start 2012

“Why would you do that?” is the typical reaction I’ve received when telling people that I was giving up meat for 28 days. 

Cutting meat out of our diet for 28 days (Chris and I kicked it off January 4 so as not to waste already-prepared meat dishes in the fridge) felt like a good way to kick off 2012, to repent for some of the overindulging that happened during the holiday season, to test myself in the kitchen.

We don’t eat a lot of meat to begin with, and definitely don’t keep a lot of it in the house, but it’s still been a fun challenge to find veg-friendly recipes and to stick to the meatless entrées at restaurants. 

I must confess that neither of us get a 100 percent for sticking to the meat-free diet -- we both put the diet on a one-meal hold for Chris’ work holiday party at the ever-delicious
Hawks -- but I’m still proud of what we’ve done over the past couple weeks. We’ve definitely gone through a lot more vegetables, and I’ve spent more time menu planning in order to waste less produce. I made my own vegetable stock, brought barley and quinoa home for the first time, and have consumed more tofu in the last month than I probably did in 2011.

I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t looking forward to Feb. 1 and the promises of cheeseburgers, deli sandwiches and chicken enchiladas it brings, but I’m still happy with how our meat-free month turned out.

As previously mentioned, I finally got around to buying barley this month, which I used to make this super-hearty soup (recipe adapted from
Epicurious) that would be perfect for a frosty winter's day. 

Mushroom Barley Soup
1oz. dried chanterelles (I used Fungus Amongus)
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery with leaves, diced
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms
6-7 cups vegetable broth
2 cups whole barley
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper, to taste

Soak the dried mushrooms in at least 2 cups hot water, to cover, for 30 minutes. Strain through a filter and reserve 2 cups of the mushroom water. Coarsely chop the dried mushrooms.

Melt the butter in a large pot (I used my
Le Creuset Dutch oven) and sauté the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, thyme and fresh mushrooms until soft, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable broth and barley, reserved mushroom water and bay leaf to the pot and bring to a boil. Stir well and add salt and pepper to taste. 

Simmer, covered, for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until barley is tender and soup thickens. Remove bay leaf and season with adjust seasonings to your liking.